I’m not sure I want to know
There is a thin veneer over everything. When we are distracted by news streams, overwhelmed by direct messaging and tired from keeping up with the Joneses, it’s easy to create a veneer that allows us to store and process more information without having to delve deeper into what’s actually going on beneath the surface.
It’s here that paradoxes are formed, and we can miss out on value when we aren’t able to dig deeper and find out more. Often, these paradoxes become most apparent in our later years, and we love to wax lyrical about how wisdom is wasted on the old and youth is wasted on the young.
Ultimately – we begin to accept (and awaken to) the opposite of so many things we once believed to be true.
Here are just a few of life’s paradoxes that can help us find more value and fulfilment in life.
Learn More to Know Less
This is also known as the knowledge paradox. That the more we know, the less we can clearly explain. Our inability to explain familiar concepts is a form of cognitive bias wherein experts often overestimate the ability of novices. As Einstein put it – the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”
This should be empowering, not frightening and should encourage us to embrace lifelong learning. Lifelong learners are built, not born. Choosing to keep learning is something we must actively do – it’s not reserved for some non-existent biologically elite.
Slow Down to Speed Up
Our parents and teachers would often say, “Less haste, more speed!”. Apart from being more mindful and present, slowing down gives us the time to be deliberate with our actions. We can focus, gather energy, and deploy our resources more efficiently. It allows you to focus on leverage and maximising returns.
When it comes to markets and investing, budgeting or risk management – this paradox is intrinsic to the sustainability of our planning.
Sprezzatura (“Simple is not simple.”)
The veneer of social acceptance places high praise on those who have the veneer of “having it all together.” The house, the family, the job, the investment portfolio…
Whilst the veneer may be entirely false, we need to remember that we see the end result, not the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It takes more effort to make something appear effortless. Effortless, elegant performances are often the result of a large volume of effortful, gritty practice.
Benjamin Franklin once said that when you are finished changing, you are finished. If we want to keep moving forward and thriving in times of hardship, we need to be dynamic and adaptable. Learning to adapt to the opposite of what we once thought true is not easy, but it’s a necessary step to find more value and more meaning in life.
There’s a story that was told many years ago (it may or may not be true…) about a Microsoft call-centre agent and their call with a deeply irate customer. Having recently purchased a computer that came pre-installed with Windows, the customer called to find out why his computer would not respond.
It goes a little like this:
Call-center Agent (CCA): Thank you for verifying your purchase; how can we help you today?
Customer (C): My computer isn’t responding, and I’ve tried everything!
CCA: Thank you for that feedback. What do you see on your screen?
C: Nothing!! Absolutely nothing!
CCA: Please press control, alt and delete together. Has that helped?
C: No – nothing has happened. I’ve tried all of this already!!
CCA: Is there an error message on your screen?
C: No – the screen is just black.
CCA: Is your screen on? Do you see the power light on in the bottom corner?
C: No – there is no power light on. (becoming more amiable) I don’t think the screen is on.
CCA: Is it plugged into the back of your computer correctly?
C: Hold on, I’ll follow the cable and check. (a few seconds pass) I can’t see behind the computer; it’s too dark.
CCA: Are you able to turn the lights on to check?
C: No, I can’t; we’re currently having load-shedding.
Sometimes, our biggest problems are our most basic problems. And, we can’t always see them ourselves until someone else reminds us. When it comes to financial planning and managing our money, it’s easy to become side-tracked by big ideas, fancy strategies, forecasting and spreadsheets, and overlook the basic starting blocks of budgeting. We miss what’s happening right in front of us.
Budgeting helps us stay connected to what’s happening with our money right now. So – why don’t we do it religiously?
Carl Richards, a regular contributor to the New York Times, shares some reasons for why we allow this to happen.
1- It’s not fun.
True. But remember, as Stephen Covey says, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” Budgeting is how we make sure our spending ladder is leaning against the right wall.
2- I already know where my money is going.
No, you don’t. Sorry. Unless you track your spending, you don’t have a clue where your money goes. Everyone I’ve ever seen go through the process of tracking spending for 30 days usually ends up saying some version of, “I had no idea I was spending that much on X.”
3- I’m not sure I want to know.
I think this is the biggest mental hurdle. The reality is that as we become aware of what and how we’re spending, we’ll find some things that surprise and bother us. Then we have to decide: Do we want to change?
Carl goes on to suggest four ways to get back to the basics of budgeting:
1- Try tracking your spending for 30 days.
2- Don’t stress about what app to use.
3- Just carry around a pen and a little notebook, and each time you make a purchase, write down what you spent and how it made you feel.
4- At the end of the month, go back through your notebook and just notice. Become aware. That’s it.
The glamorous side of managing our money is making purchases that make us feel better – not in tracking our spending. But, the feel-good side of managing our money is in regaining and maintaining control of what we can do with our money, which starts with budgeting.
As Carl said, it’s not about making significant changes. At first, it’s just about becoming more aware and noticing what’s going on, noticing things that we may have missed or overlooked.
The result is that we will be more mindful and have more control over our money; and that’s worth knowing.